Saturday, July 18, 2009


For the oldest of us, the Evening News died yesterday, the "most trusted man in America" who came into our living rooms every weekday night and told us about what was happening beyond our own senses, "And that's the way it is."

For two tumultuous decades, before 24/7 cable and the Internet, Walter Cronkite was the face of the news, mediating between millions of Americans and the raw chaos of events, ordering the flood of words and pictures into a hierarchy of importance and sending viewers off to live the other 23 and a half hours feeling well-informed.

It was an illusion, of course, but Cronkite was the ideal embodiment of reassurance that the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s was not upending the world as they knew it.

In the days before O'Reilly, Olbermann et al, he presented violent scenes at home and abroad with a McLuhanesque cool that drained most of the threat from them, giving only rare glimpses of human emotion in his welling eyes and shaking voice as he reported JFK's death, the disorder of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the sight of a man walking on the moon.

But beyond that calm fa├žade were good journalistic instincts about the failed war in Vietnam ("If I've lost Cronkite," LBJ said. "I've lost middle America") and the meaning of Watergate (along with Woodward and Bernstein, CBS News was following the break-in while the rest of the media slept).

In the flood of tributes that inevitably follow the death of such a figure, the one that undoubtedly would have meant the most to Walter Cronkite was that he was always a good reporter. That he certainly was.

1 comment:

John said...

Cronkite was also, up until he died, the Honorary Chair of the Interfaith Alliance - a bulwark of reason and tolerance.